Advanced Placement (AP) exams are held every May for high school students with close to 5 million tests taken in 2017. They are supposed to be a culmination of year-long courses and are designed to mimic a college level class – full of information. The tests themselves are not a representation of the students’ mastery of the course material in a traditional manner. In fact, the students set the grading rubrics and the scale for the AP score of each exam. The scores are reported to students, high schools, colleges, and universities. The exams are scored on a scale of one to five points:
5: Extremely qualified
2: Possibly qualified
1: No recommendation
AP exams have been receiving increasing criticism over the past few years. There are many issues that are involved with the unhealthy culture of these tests. A survey of 1,000 AP teachers found that “more than half are concerned that the program’s effectiveness is being threatened as districts loosen restrictions on who can take such rigorous courses and as students flock to them to polish their résumés.”
These exams include too much information and do not give students enough time to learn the information. They have a reputation as being a test of students’ ability to memorize and regurgitate information onto a scantron or piece of paper. In a criticism of AP exams, a former teacher wrote that “the AP program leads to a rigid stultification.” AP courses are packed with tons of information and material with a desire to emphasize critical thinking. However, students are faced with the challenge of memorizing and “learning” this insane amount of information to take a college level test in a setting that isn’t anywhere close to that of a college classroom.
AP courses are not equivalent to a college-level course. They are only said to be approximately close to a college setting. However, these lessons and lectures are taught in a setting where there are limited resources, funding, and accessibility to information. In fact, AP classes are often not even as rigorous as their college-level counterparts. Because of this, many top-tier colleges are shying away from granting AP credit. Seventy-five percent of colleges have limited which AP subject areas they will accept for credit. In a study, schools such as Dartmouth University or Brown did not offer course credit for AP work. Some may still use AP scores as a measure for course placement, but would not accept them for credit.
Students are overloaded. These tests are an extra stressor that students must face on top of their classes, grades, extracurriculars, pressures, and college applications. AP exams amplify an unhealthy culture in high school students. The issue does not only lie in the way the exams are put together and presented, but also the way that parents and students react to exams. They have created the image that students should be taking a large amount of AP exams for the sole purpose of getting accepted to a selective college. This leads to a culture of stressed-out and burned-out students. Students become overwhelmed and actually end up scoring lower on exams as a result. They take the classes because they think it will lead them to a better college instead of actually pursuing interests in knowledge.
So should you take AP exams? Should you participate in this culture?
Take classes you are interested in. Meet with your counselor and know yourself in order to determine what classes you think would be best for you. Your goal should not be to beef up your transcript. It should be to gain knowledge and exposure to topics you are interested in. If that’s the reason why you’re taking the class, then by all means, please do. Make sure not to overload. Do not overstress about these classes and exams. Make sure that you are taking AP exams as opportunities to learn how to learn, develop self-discipline, and master challenging material.